One hundred years ago, George Gershwin’s iconic Rhapsody in Blue was premiered. Audiences sat down on a snowy Tuesday afternoon on February 12th 1924 at Aeolian Hall in Manhattan, and saw a performance of a new masterpiece that would fuse both jazz and classical music. This work would ultimately become one of the hallmarks of American music.

100 years later, two fantastic American musicians have picked up the gauntlet Gershwin threw down. They have composed and recorded a new work that pays tribute to Gershwin, the Rhapsody in Blue and celebrates American energy and optimism.

Released on February 23rd on the Naxos Record label the highly esteemed Grammy-nominated composer Peter Boyer will have his piece Rhapsody in Red, White and Blue available for audiences to listen to. Featuring the virtuoso pianist Jeffrey Biegel as soloist and the London Symphony Orchestra, this is a work that is sure to be a 21st Century audience favourite.

The idea of composing a piece marking the 100th anniversary of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was entirely the idea of the pianist Jeffrey Biegel. It has been a long journey seeing the project to completion. Boyer was approached four years ago by Biegel about the idea, as Boyer explains, “Biegel is quite an extraordinary individual in that not only is he a great virtuoso pianist, but he’s also passionately committed to the creation of new works for piano and orchestra…when he approached me he had this extraordinarily grand idea. He said ‘It’s now early 2020,’ this is shortly before the pandemic, and he said ’Four years from now will be the centennial of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and I would like you to compose a piece, and I’d like it to be called Rhapsody in Red, White and Blue!”

To add to grandiosity of the project, Biegel wanted Boyer’s piece to be about the same length as Gershwin’s Rhapsody, to be able to stand on its own, oh and by the way, Biegel wanted to perform it in all 50 states with orchestra.

Initially Boyer thought the idea was far too ambitious, not to mention extremely daunting. As Boyer explains,  “I said ‘Jeffrey you’re crazy…this is an insane idea!’ I just thought it was too ambitious...however I knew right away it was a great idea…. I thought this was just too much because no matter what I do, I’m going to be compared to one of the greatest most iconic pieces of American music. How can I possibly do that?”

After much cajoling, Biegel convinced Boyer that he was the only composer who could do the project justice, and write a piece that  would stand the test of time. Now in 2024, four years later, the project has come to fruition in the best way possible.

Biegel not only came up with the idea of the piece and the 50 state tour. He was so committed the project that while the pandemic was happening, he managed to raise the money so that the project could be seen through to completion.

YHJPeter Boyer and Jeffrey Biegel

The piece premiered with the Utah  Symphony on the 30th of June 2023, and received a prolonged standing ovation. This performance also launched the “Rhapsody National Initiative.” The project is clearly a monumental success. To date, the Rhapsody will be performed in all 50 states, the total number of performances is currently at 54, and the project is scheduled to conclude in 2027.

Putting aside the pretext of the anniversary of Gershwin’s iconic masterpiece, and the ambitious tour; Boyer has written a piece that is truly remarkable. Gershwin captured the energy and optimism of America in his Rhapsody , and Boyer has magnificently achieved the same result, but with a modern cinematic twist.

Boyer is trained in film score composing so this quality is very much part of his compositional DNA, and it works perfectly for his Rhapsody.  Boyer captures the vitality and vigour of the American spirit while tipping his hat to Gershwin in the first and third sections of the piece. The middle section is a sublime depiction of the beautiful, vast open spaces that the country possesses. Throughout the work, Boyer writes some wonderful melodies, and shows his mastery of orchestration.

This release on the Naxos Label has been recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, with Jeffrey Biegel at the piano and Peter Boyer himself conducting. This is truly an astonishing performance of a piece that is worth experiencing again and again.

Who knows, 100 years from now, perhaps someone will use the Rhapsody in Red White and Blue as the impetus for another grandiose project…would not surprise me in  the least!